This is why you act like a sociopath on the Tube
It’s all about blending in with the crowd
You know it – whether you’re pushing through doors, obstructing the elderly or pretending to be asleep to avoid that pregnant woman’s gaze, you become a sort of awful person on the Tube.
But fret not – for science has your back. It turns out that the reason you’re the worst version of yourself on the Tube is because, well, you’re not really yourself at all.
According to clinical psychologist Dr Abigael San, it’s easier to blend into the crowd on the underground. “Because you’re in an anonymous situation and there are a lot of people around you, you do just kind of take on the persona of a person on a train.
“You’re not your kind, compassionate self – if you imagine how you treat people when they come as a guest to your house compared to how you are on the Tube in a hurry, you’ll be different. Everyone else is anonymous and you’re anonymous so you lose touch with your actual self.
“It means that, if there’s a problem, there are so many people around that everyone just assumes that the next person is going to help. Agency and personal responsibility go out the window because it isn’t felt to be necessary.“
This is called the “diffusion of responsibility”, a psychological phenomenon in which people are less likely to take responsibility when other people are present.
The concept has been applied to everything from Nazi atrocities to lack of responses to group emails, but it seems it may be somewhat responsible for our actions (or lack thereof) on our everyday commute.
So what about your inconsolable rage when someone stands on the left of an escalator? Other factors such as stress or heat could be at work. Dr San explains: “If people are uncomfortable, if they’re hot or they’re in a hurry, they’ll feel more vulnerable and more threatened – and some people will respond to feeling threatened by being more aggressive.”
However it’s not all bad news – merely taking a breather can help you to be your usual angelic self. “If you actually stop and think for a second when you are on the Tube, you might ask yourself if you’d treat someone like that normally. “Try and imagine your colleague was in the corner watching you and you didn’t know they were there – would you be proud of yourself for how you’d acted?
“Even if it is in human nature, it doesn’t mean you can’t change that. Just stopping for a moment and asking how you’d behave if you knew a people, or asking how you’d feel if someone acted that way to you, can make all the difference.”